In honour of a great lady

It was thought that with March
being observed as International Women’s History Month, we would entertain a
more creative piece this week. 

In addition to learning historic
facts, we hope you enjoy this engaging contribution.

Nurse Leila, who might she be
today?

Sex in the city

By any stretch of our imagination,
can she be likened to the much loved fictional character of Carrie Bradshaw
from “Sex and the City”? Perhaps not. Are you thinking the author of this article
is losing it? Well, entertain my thoughts for just a moment.

To begin with, the most obvious
comparison is that both were writers.

Nurse Leila made contributions to
the local Caymanian Weekly under the heading This Week in West Bay and was
considered the person to go to for news in the district. Some senior citizens
today still whisper she was even “kind of nosy”.

In our modern Carrie Bradshaw
world, she would be praised for proactively seeking the truth in journalism.

My, how time changes perspective.
How else would a journalist get to the bottom of a story and shed light on all
the facts other than by digging a little deeper.

Second, and perhaps the most
significant comparison, yet equally contrasting, was that their lives generally
revolved around assisting others with the effects and rewards of love. While
Carrie’s column and the experiences of her and her friends highlighted the more
decadent and entertaining side of love, often shared over a bottle of wine,
Nurse Leila’s centred more on the results of relationships, through assisting
mothers in the delivery room.

The Wall of Honour booklet states
that she delivered more than 1,000 babies in her lifetime. As a result, it is
hard to believe that in all those years of having new mothers reside with her,
for the first week of the child’s life, that Nurse Leila would not have heard a
few stories.

Whether they were stories told with
pride by a happily married wife or told by a frustrated unmarried mother, there
must have been at least a few love stories. Nurse Leila was a successful
midwife but not limited to that alone. 
Prior to converting her home to a functional midwifery clinic, she held
the position of head nurse at the Government hospital and worked with Dr. Overton
during the malaria epidemic, caring for the ill island-wide. For her life time
dedication to the community she was awarded the Certificate and Badge of
Honour.

How else were they similar? Both
faced challenges in finding their identity as single women. Carrie had a big
city life with her column, her fashion, her friends and her on-again-off again
relationship with Mr. Big, while Nurse Leila excelled in her small town through
her column, her nursing and her dedication to the church. Sometimes in life it
is our relationships or lack thereof, which say the most about a person.

While Carrie eventually captures
her Mr. Big, Nurse Leila defines her life without a husband to the end of her
days. One oral account suggests that Nurse Leila captured the attention of a
gentleman outside of her district; however the relationship did not blossom.

Challenges

It is easy to understand that such
an articulate, educated woman, who rubbed shoulders with men in the working
world, might have faced challenges with a romantic relationship. Cayman of the
1900s was a place where women were predominantly defined by who their fathers
or husbands were in the community.

However those were not the shoes
Nurse Leila chose to wear.

Both Nurse Leila and Carrie were
trend setters.  Scratching your head
again, huh?

Well, think about it… to many
people in our modern world, fashion designers are viewed as deities to be
followed and worshiped, however, back in the day, this was not the case.

Instead of fashion, Nurse Leila was
busy setting trends in local religion. In a time when Cayman was still
predominantly lead by the Presbyterian Church she was busy reinstituting the
Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to the Island. 

Whomever you choose to compare her
to, one thing is for certain, her contributions were many and far reaching,
especially for a single woman of her time.

To conclude, we may want to
consider the value of some of the newfound liberties that we have gained in our
modern Carrie Bradshaw world and the value of our vanishing Caymanian heritage.
Our heritage and our tourism industry were not built on Jimmy Choo, Manolo
Blahnik or Versace.

They were built on welcoming others
with a quick smile and sharing our values of faith, honest work and good
conversation over a hearty meal. So enjoy your new shoes but don’t use them to
stomp on our heritage in the process.

Our heritage is the currency that
has afforded us those luxuries. 
Remember, Choos are great but there are still places only a good pair of
wompers can take you.

The National Trust for the Cayman
Islands acquired Nurse Leila’s home in 2007 and is currently working toward its
restoration. Donations are always welcome.

 

Denise Bodden, Historic Programs
manager, National Trust for the Cayman Islands. For further information please
contact Denise Bodden at the National Trust. 

E-mail [email protected]
or call 749-1123.

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